5 Step Program – Global Animal Partnership

November 17, 2011
Whole Foods, 5 Step Program

Global Animal Partnership

The 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program

I rarely go to Whole Foods Market.  I haven’t lived near one, nor worked near one and thus never bother to go.  However, things are changing over the next few months and I will soon have access to a Whole Foods Market so I thought it worth looking into.  I was quite pleased to find that Whole Foods has partnered with Global Animal Partnership (GAP) to certify Whole Food’s producer’s practices according to their 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program.

First off, props to Whole Foods.  After looking through the 5-Step Program it seems to be an simple and effective means of getting across to the consumer how the animals that they are consuming are treated and cared for.  I look forward to purchasing some foodstuffs from them once I have better access.

So on the actual 5 Step plan itself, it seems that once in Whole Foods different foodstuffs will have different labels specifying whether the product is a Step 1, Step 2, … Step 5+ with Step 5+ being the max level of care you can have.  In looking at GAP’s website here is a table below that shows how many operations they have for each step; which will probably match the likely hood of finding that particular step in Whole Foods.  Meaning, it may be hard to find Step 5 or 5+ but easy to find Steps 3 and 4 for most animals.

From: Global Animal Partnership; click for source.

Also, check out this short video produced by the Global Animal Partnership.  They go through all the steps:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv4bzoEG8Kc

Standards:

  • Step 1:  No Cages, Crating or Crowding
    • Chickens: Be able to spread their wings and preen without touching other birds
    • Pigs: No more than 25% of floor is slatted; bedding required; no Tethers or gestation stalls
    • Beef Cattle: 50% Vegetative cover on range/pasture; 2/3min life on pasture
  • Step 2:  Enriched Environment
    • Chickens: Cover or Blinds in Housing to isolate themselves
    • Pigs: Changed limits on allowed lameness, weaning age, and max transport time
    • Beef Cattle:  Objects must be provided for grooming/scratching (natural behavior)
  • Step 3:  Enhanced Outdoor Access
    • Chickens: Shade required; continuous outdoor access; indoor foraging area during harsh seasons
    • Pigs: Continuous outdoor access; enrichments required that encourage foraging.
    • Beef Cattle: No step 3 for Beef Cattle
  • Step 4:  Pasture Centered
    • Chickens:  Access to 50% vegetative cover pasture
    • Pigs: Access to 25% vegetative pasture during allowable seasons; access to wallows
    • Beef Cattle: 3/4min life on pasture;
  • Step 5:  Animal Centered, no Physical Alterations
    • Chickens: 75% vegetative pasture; birds must be able to perch
    • Pigs: 50% vegetative pasture; pigs remain with litter mates for entire life
    • Beef Cattle: 75% vegetative pasture; no branding/ear notching
  • Step 5+: Lives Entire Life on Same Farm
    • Chickens: Birds must be bred, hatched and raised on the same farm.
    • Pigs: On-farm or local slaughter
    • Beef Cattle: On-farm or local slaughter

Sources:

  1. Whole Foods Market – 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating Program Brochure (PDF)
  2. Global Animal PartnershipThe 5-Step Program
  3. Food Link5 Step Plan: Veganism, marketing or education?

United Egg Producers Certified (UEP)

October 9, 2011
UEP United Egg Producers Logo

(UEP) United Egg Producers

United Egg Producers Certification

The United Egg Producers (UEP) is large trade association that represents producers.  According to their website they currently represent about 90% of all eggs produced in the United States.  Their currenty Animal Welfare guidelines however states 80% of all eggs, but most likely that’s just an old number and the guidelines haven’t been updated to reflect their growth in certification.

After reviewing their guidelines, is is my opinion that a UEP Certification is the minimum certification a farm should aspire too.  It is also the minimum certification I, as an egg eater, would want to purchase.  If an egg factory can’t meet a UEP Certification, these eggs are truly not something worth considering.  The UEP Certification program ensures reasonable minimum factors in nearly all aspects of production.

On Debeaking
Few things of note on the UEP, they allow beak trimming (which is done to reduce cannibalism and damage done by aggressive behavior).  But don’t let that dissuade you from UEP certified eggs, as beak trimming is a boon to any factory that has hens in close proximity.  If you want factory hens, you want the most humane debeaking you can get.  The UEP states that all beak trimming needs to be done the first time when the chicks are under 10 days old.  According to the references available on wikipedia, trimming prior to 10 days allows for healing and lack of pain in beak when they are older.  Trimming done after 10 days greatly increases the chance of the Hen having acute, chronic pain for her entire life.  So, if you are going to eat eggs from debeaked hens, make sure they are debeaked in accordance with the UEP.

Let it be said however, I am neither encouraging nor approving of debeaking.  I prefer my eggs to come from pastured hens, however that is not always possible.  And IF I am going to purchase factory hens, they need to be debeaked as to be not debeaked in factory conditions increases violent behavior and cannibalism among the chickens.  I prefer non-factory conditions, but given the choice between factory debeaked and factory beaked, I’d go with UEP Certified debeaked.

On Science
The UEP seems intent on letting you know that all their guidelines are scientifically reviewed and scientifically proven.  Statements like “Science has shown…” are commonly used.  I have a disagreement with that as to what they mean by “science”, as even depending on the field of science it can state vastly different findings.  Scientifically according to what?  What is their baseline?  Do they check stress levels of chickens?  Egg Production?  Do they call in a chicken psychologist?  You can’t just say “Science says”, you need to specify what factors you are looking at, especially when it involves animals that can’t tell you their subjective feelings on the matter.

Standards:

  • Debeaking in 10 days.
  • Outdoor Access: Does not specify required outdoor access on Cage-Free, but stipulates that if provided it must be kept clean.
  • Space Per Hen
    • Cage-Free Space: 1.5sqr feet per hen
    • Caged Space: 67 to 84 sq inches depending on breed (one Sqr foot equals 144 sqr inches)
  • Includes general requirements about access to clean feed, clean water, …

Sources:

  1. UEP Certified
  2. UEP Certified Guidelines
  3. Wikipedia: United Egg Producers (UEP)
  4. Wikipedia: Debeaking

Eggs! Full Circle and Stieber Farms

September 7, 2011

So the other day there was a large sale for a variety of Full Circle Farms foods.  Always eager to try organic foods, especially when they are on sale I bought a few items; not knowing very much about Full Circle.  Sadly, it was primarily foods I don’t eat very often like grain based cereals, and ultra-pasturized milk.  I did however purchase some of their eggs.

Normally I don’t purchase milk because it will go bad before my family can drink it all, as I’m an breakfast burrito guy in the morning and only granola once or twice a week – generally with yogurt.  So my lack of cereal and mixed with the fact that I prefer the least amount of pasteurization I can get (which decreases the speed for milk spoilage) means I just rarely buy milk.  I was going to purchase Full Circle milk anyways and just deal with it but while it was Organic and Whole (two musts!) it was ultra-pasteurized, which threw the deal for me.  On ultra-pasteurization see some of the top google hits here, here and here.  I just prefer it as natural as possible.

Ultra-Pasturized

Full Circle Whole Milk - Ultra Pasteurized

However, like I said I did purchase eggs and sought then to taste test a few.  I compared the Full Circle brand Organic, Brown eggs to Stiebrs Farms Organic, Free-Range, Omega-3 eggs.  See below for the final product.  Oh, and the bacon on the side, well it’s hard NOT to cook up some bacon if there is any defrosted and begging to be cooked, and this morning I added a strip of Beeler’s Bacon to the menu.

Eggs, Bacon and Breakfast

Full Circle & Stieber Farms Eggs with Beelers Bacon: Breakfast!

Full Circle & Stieber Farms Egg Comparison

Full Circle & Stieber Farms Egg Carton Comparison

On an initial, pre-cook exterior examination, my personal thoughts are that the Full Circle eggs are on average slightly larger than the Stiebrs Farm eggs.  Not all the eggs were larger, but on average; the batch was.  Now, I cooked this comparision breakfast up without having done any research on Full Circle farms so I will write the article like I had initially intended.  However, as I have now done research into Full Circle I will admit that there is a surprise revelation below.

Full Circle and Stieber Farms Egg Comparison

Full Circle Upper, Stieber Farms Lower

On cooking the eggs one thing was readily apparent, the Stiebrs Omega-3 Eggs were had a much thicker, or stronger shell.  The color was also slightly different though both organic eggs had a beautiful golden color.  Overall I’d say Stiebr’s Omega-3 eggs were slightly more golden in color.  If you click on the below picture to view it full size you should be able to see the slight difference.  Take a look and comment below which egg appears more golden, I’ll let you know if I agree.  Despite the Full Circle eggs appearing larger in their shell, once out of the shell I was unable to distinguish any difference in size of yolks between the two eggs.  Obviously, as seen below, my cooking methods don’t allow for a comparison of the whites as they mix quite readily.

Full Circle and Stieber Farms Egg Comparison

Full Circle and Stieber Farms Egg, Pre-Deliciousness

The below picture is moments before the scrumptious taste of eggs was to be mine!  On a strict taste comparison I would say that they were equal yet slightly different in taste.  The Omega-3 egg yolks due taste different and I wasn’t surprised by that as their diet is uniquely different.

Eggs, Bacon and Breakfast

Full Circle & Stieber Farms Eggs with Beelers Bacon: Breakfast!

Overall, after eating breakfast I concluded that while I still prefer Stiebr’s Farms eggs the Full Circle farms eggs would work in a pinch!  My only real concern was that I didn’t know where the eggs came from and what the farming practices were.  Obviously, a little bit of research can solve that matter.

Research:  So while preparing for the Comparison blog post I obviously did a bit of reading up on Full Circle.  Funny thing however, and I quote directly from the Full Circle website, here:

Steibrs Farm provides our members with cage-free, organic eggs that are absolutely free from GMO feeds or pesticides.

Haha!  Oh my, it appears I may have been comparing Apples to Apples!  Full Circle eggs ARE Stiebrs Farm’s eggs, just run through Full Circle’s different producer/store network.  At first I was a little embarrassed about learning this because I thought it pointed me out as a biased reviewer; and while that still may be the case, after thinking about it I concluded that what it really showcases are the differences between the Organic and the Organic, Omega-3 eggs.  The yolk color difference I can understand due to the dietary difference; but I am still surprised at the shell thickness difference.  Both sets of hens are Cage-Free and unless Full Circle get’s something special, both are Certified Humane, which is top of the line in my opinion.  I even went through and tested a few more eggs from each dozen, and each time I would say the Full Circle organic eggs have weaker shells.  The Omega-3 diet, or whatever else get’s included in their special diet, must make for a stronger shell.


Certified Humane

May 2, 2011
Certified Humane

Certified Humane Logo

Certified Humane Raised and Handled

Certified Humane is a 501c3 Non Profit organization who’s goal is to support the Humane treatment of animals from birth to death.  This is an all encompassing certification program that includes feed, housing,  & slaughter.  They also make the claim that they are the only “animal welfare label requiring the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter.”

I will post a summary of what a Certified Humane food implies, but if you are curious for more information I encourage you to look at their website.  They include a huge amount of information that is not always available on Farming websites.

Another positive about Certified Humane is their public visibility and thus accountability.  For every animal-type standard, they list the people that developed the standard.  This makes it easy to contact someone if you have a question or disagreement and don’t want to contact Certified Humane directly.  It took me maybe 2 minutes to find contact information for the local “R. Newberry PHD, Associate Professor, Washington State University”.  On Ms. Newberry, she is listed as an Associate Professor for the  “Center for the Study of Animal Well-being”; an applicable contact in my opinion.

One potential downfall to Certified Humane is the generality of many of their standards.   Terms like “must be considered” or “appropriate” rather than listing specifics.  I do not personally view this as a downfall however, these are general guidelines that give freedom to the farmer to do what he considers best for his animals, as well as freedom for Certified Humane to question the farmer’s standards.  Worst case scenario, Certified Humane removes their certification.  When freedom is allowed, good things happen.  There is no real reason to be horribly strict on many things such as feed types, amounts, or water conditions; as long as those conditions are “considered” and handled “appropriately” for the general animal welfare.  Nature is too varied to be kept under strict conditions.  And we view that as a good thing.

Standards:

  • Certified Humane has pages of specific rules and guidelines for Beef Cattle, Dairy Cattle, Young Dairy Beef, Broiler Hens, Egg Hens, Goats, Pigs, Sheep and Turkeys.
  • In general, they all have the same requirements.
    • Freedom to move (decent square footage)
    • Freedom to eat and drink (clean sources, no stale food, no contaminated water)
    • Healthy environments (specifics listed for pastured and indoor)
    • No antibiotics (administered only for “therapeutic reasons” and only by a Veternarian)
    • Humane slaughter required

Sources:

  1. Certified Humane: Home
  2. Wikipedia: Certified Humane
  3. Certified Humane: Animal Standards Listing